13-year-old Iris feels abandoned. Her mum recently left the family. Her dad isn't doing the best job holding down the fort. Her older brother is running with a bad crowd. Now a group of Irish Travellers has set up camp in front of their farm. Even though her dad doesn't want her to get mixed up with the campers, Iris can't help being curious about them. She strikes up a friendship with a 14-year-old nicknamed Trick, an Irish boy who has seen so much more than she has, whose life is even less predictable than hers. Soon, Iris' family falls apart in ways she had never imagined.
Set in the UK, Infinite Sky by C.J. Flood is seen through the eyes of Iris - no pun intended, the point being that Iris is a good narrator for this story. She's at that critical age with a critical family situation. She's curious and naive, innocent and observant, torn between staying loyal to her family and seeking out something new. The boys who surround Iris - her father, her brother, and her new friend Trick - are even more troubled than she is. Iris is aware that her brother's new friends are reckless but doesn't know how to stop him from hanging out with them. All she knows is she wants to protect him, but she can't. She becomes distant from Matty, the girl who was once her best friend, and defies her father's orders by hanging out with Trick regularly.
My favorite brother-sister moment comes when Sam, an artist, finally responds to his sister's request to draw something special on her wall. This scene serves multiple purposes: illustrating the siblings' relationship, giving Sam a way to channel his pent-up energy and anger, and giving Iris something special. I also liked the moment when Iris listens to Sam tell the story of how he met his new friends and thinks to herself, "I just wanted to understand," and later, when she purposely keeps herself busy cleaning plates while her father and brother argue so she can hear what's going on and be right there to diffuse things, if need be.
The book's prologue tells of something that happens very, very late in the book. Though it is purposely vague, it does set the reader's mind on that path, so that when the tragedy finally occurred, I wasn't as surprised or shocked as I would have been had that first page not set things up. I can appreciate the prologue and its later repeat/reveal from a storytelling standpoint, as it's a structure that's used in many books (and movies, and TV episodes) - I'd love to hear if other readers liked it or not. Did it soften the blow, or make it easy to predict? Would you have had a different reading experience had the prologue not been included?
This is C.J. Flood's debut novel, and I enjoyed it. I think my favorite moments were the little ones, not the big ones. As I mentioned earlier, Iris is observant, and I liked when she noticed and described things that were so telling about her family and about herself, such as the state of their home:
The living room curtains were closed, but there was a gap in the middle where they didn't quiet meet. Mum had talked about replacing them ever since she shrank them in the wash last year. I promised that as soon as I had some money, I would do it myself.
Sunlight pierced through the gap, turning bits of dust to glitter. - Page 68
Another lovely passage:
The next day came, and the next week, and we went on with our lives, which were just the same except for being messier and less organized and much, much quieter. - Page 81
My favorite sentence in the book is the closing sentence. Beautiful and true.
I'll keep my eyes peeled for Flood's next book, Everywhere River.
Visual note: I really liked the font the text was set in, which the publishing data page cites as "Incognito." Kudos to whoever selected the font. I also really like both the UK and the US covers of the book, which I think are pretty and appropriate for the story and the setting. I would wager that the UK cover, which I posted above, may be easier to sell to middle school boys than the US cover, which features Iris alone.
I have included this book on my Tough Issues for Teens booklist, under the category of Parent/Child Relationships. I would have listed it in another category, too, but that would have revealed a major plot point...